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June 28. 2014 8:23PM

Northern Pass won't count on regional help in New England

MANCHESTER - Northern Pass is moving ahead as planned and not waiting for a New England-wide process among governors and regional power grid operators to approve energy projects that could use eminent domain and ratepayer funds.

Getting ratepayer funding for Northern Pass would make it "conceivable" that the project could afford to bury more miles of transmission lines in the North Country, but that's not the plan, said William Quinlan, president and chief operating officer for Public Service of New Hampshire.

The governors through the New England States Committee on Electricity (NESCO) are looking to select a low-carbon transmission project by issuing requests for proposal. The project also would open the door for using eminent domain, where private land can be taken for a price.

"On this issue of eminent domain, it is not our intention, and I don't believe we would ever consider using eminent domain to move forward with Northern Pass," Quinlan said. "I think that issue has been decided here in New Hampshire. We're very confident that we've got a secure route at this point, so there's really no need to exercise eminent domain, and it's not our intention to do so."

House Bill 648 was approved by the Legislature and signed into law in 2012, largely to prevent Northern Pass from using eminent domain.

"We're not relying on the NESCO process to get us there," Quinlan said. "We're pushing forward with our project as originally envisioned. We'll let NESCO play out a bit and see what impact it has."

On other issues, Quinlan:

Maintained that power-generation plants PSNH owns "are hugely valuable to customers." They include coal, biomass, oil and natural gas plants as well as nine hydroelectric dams.

The Legislature has directed the Public Utilities Commission to start a process that could lead the PUC to order PSNH to sell or close its plants if regulators determine it's in the best economic interests of the state.

"This winter, it provided a very valuable price cap for our customers," he said. "We saw a lot of customers coming back to Public Service of New Hampshire as a result of what they were exposed to under a variable price from a competitive supply."

Said New England has high energy costs because the "gas infrastructure into the region has not kept up to the demand." He added, "To truly stabilize and begin to lower power prices in New England, you need both additional gas infrastructure and we believe that you need to import hydropower."

Learned from previous serious storms that produced widespread power outages that "the communications around those disasters is probably more important than the pace of restoration."

mcousineauu@unionleader.com



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